Unlocking Secrets: Industry Gurus’ Best Practices

Unlocking Secrets: Industry Gurus’ Best Practices

“Each lock has its own point of equilibrium between torque and friction; if you turn too hard, the plug could jam; too softly, and the pins won’t catch properly. With 16-pin columns, finding the point of equilibrium is entirely a matter of intuition and style. Close your eyes; listen for the wire of the pick humming. With a satisfying metallic gurgle, the lock springs open.” [Hat tip here to author Michael Chabon, for his brilliant description of the art of lock picking in his award winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.]

Of course, almost none of this comes naturally; it’s the result of expert practice honed over generations and passed down to the discerning scholar and most attentive of protégés.

It’s no secret at all that we as individuals have the power to share our wisdom with whom we choose to enlighten. For those of us on the path of enlightenment seeking, it often takes cunning persuasion or subtle ego stroking to extract the wisdom we need from our peers. Quite a bit of this relies on your intuition and style, just as you might pick a lock. It’s a tightrope balance you must employ.

Here at SCN, we’re doing the work for you. We went ahead with our powers of persuasion to draw out what’s keeping some of our experts in the industry up at night right now.

The Secret to Creating the Future

Julian Phillips, Executive Vice President Whitlock A reasonably well-known futurist and technology entrepreneur was quoted as saying this: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” Now hidden in that message to engineers the world over is this: sometimes you cannot deal with history and what worked before; you have to take a leap into the unknown and trust your instincts. This article is less about best practices because it’s discussing the future and right “the best,” so I encourage you to use your instincts and decide for yourself.

Here are the five AV design principles that I am betting the future on:

1. From room design to USER design. We still tend to think about AV design from a space-first perspective. What is the space we are working with, and how can we make the technology as perfect as we can within it? Although space is very important, we have to shift to a user-centric model. Unified communications is driving enterprise adoption, and with presence, convergence, and mobility, the technology needs to follow the user wherever he or she happens to work. AV design needs to be much more adaptive with access and usability being more important than quality.

2. Dumb just got Dumber; get CONNECTED. Dumb AV designs where the technology is not connected to the network for control, measurement, reporting, and remote support need to stop—now. With the Internet of Things now predicting 50 billion connected devices by 2020, from toothbrushes to toilet rolls, who thinks it’s a good idea for major AV systems to remain a disconnected, technology island?

3. PLATFORMS not Products. Along with connectivity, comes interoperability. The days of building a product that serves its own purpose and talks with nothing else are also over. Manufacturers need to think in terms of the ecosystem, where their technology lives alongside their competitors’ not only connecting, but sharing data and functionality. Open standards, open APIs, and opening up the kimono bring many more benefits than proprietary widgets and secret sauce. This is the age of the platform.

4. Simple just got SIMPLER. Complexity is the mother of poor adoption, and yes, I just made that up. But before we design, engineer, program, or sell the idea of complex systems, let’s ask ourselves one important question: who is going to be using this technology every single day? Start with the premise that there are about 1.5 million connected AV rooms around the world today versus 6.1 billion connected smartphones by 2020. If you are designing a system that is over-engineered and where the UX is not as simple as using a smartphone, think again. The last person to take a training course on how to use an iPhone, please raise your hand.

5. Older demands SMARTER. The universal truth is whatever our age, we are all older tomorrow. But does that mean we are wiser and smarter? Already the millennial generation is the majority of the workforce (generally people 35 years and younger); therefore, assume that the majority of people using your designs grew up with video games, the internet, and iPhones. Reusing four-year-old designs “because we know it works” does not get the job done. From now on, “one year older, two years smarter.”

The Secret to Training and Mentoring

Dan Barton, Senior Consultant Shen, Milsom, & Wilke

Finding the perfect candidates to lead the new generation of AV consultants can be a challenging process. Even after we find the best candidate, there is a wide array of skill sets required to truly be a great consultant, myriad hats to wear, so to speak. The good news is most of them can be learned through experience and the guidance of your peers and mentors. While difficult to narrow down the required skill sets, here are the top four that I feel hold the most value.

1. Interpersonal proficiency. Every client we get the pleasure of working with is truly unique. This requires us to adapt ourselves to operate to meet their expectations and to assimilate ourselves into their culture. The advice: be one with their team, not just your own. The real challenge is being able to foster the chemistry needed to engage the various different types of personalities we encounter to make them comfortable and have confidence in you. Spoiler alert: Sometimes clients just won’t warm up to you; don’t take it personally. Find someone else on your team that may appeal to your clients’ idiosyncrasies and move forward.

2. Communication, both internally and externally, is absolutely critical. You are not a singular entity operating in isolation. You are part of a project team all operating to achieve the same goal: a successful project. Easy communication with all of the team members (both internally and externally) helps ensure smooth movement throughout the process of design, coordination, and implementation. Not responding to emails/calls in a timely manner and frequently being late to the office are team killers. Let’s be clear here, if no one is communicating, you don’t have a team. Make yourself available, especially during business hours, through any of the various channels of technology available. Remember, if communicating with you takes a great deal of effort or is frustrating for the rest of team, then it doesn’t matter how technically brilliant you are.

3. Be a valuable resource to everyone. No task should be considered beneath you. Regardless of your position within a firm, always be willing to help anyone, at any time, with anything you are capable of doing (yes, even if it is hitting ctrl-P). This makes you a truly valuable team member. As you move up in the world, always remember that you are going to be part of something greater than you: the team.

4. Organization! The age-old adage, a place for everything, and everything in its place, says it all. Most companies have a pre-designated structure for how digital documents should be filed. Make the effort to properly document and file items in their proper place.

The Secret to Repeat Business

Gary Dixon, Sales Engineer, Installed Sound Audio-Technica As a sales engineer, I get to see many aspects of the sales process from the pre-sales pitch all the way through post-sales support and the peaks and valleys in-between. Many times, the end user will call us weeks after system commissioning because a limitation of our product was reached due to the limitation not being retained by the client after the training. By no means is this a knock on the integrator; I know most end users start to daydream after the first 10 minutes of a training session.

In the end the client has hired an AV integrator to be the expert and “just make it work.” When that system doesn’t work for whatever reason, the client calls the AV integrator, and then to the manufacturers down the AV signal path. At Audio-Technica, we have an Audio Solutions department dedicated to phone, email, and web support for audio questions big and small. We love to talk with end users. (Keep the calls coming!) However, I have experienced that the key to repeat business and growing business among AV integrators is confirming clients know how to use the gear they already have.

Revisiting a customer to confirm his knowledge of the system’s operation may look like a huge “time suck” from a sales perspective, yet during this visit, the customer may have other needs that come to mind for additional business. Or, confirming a particular system operation with a client can encourage confidence in a customer to want to do more and upgrade the system. At Audio-Technica, we are always happy to spend the necessary time and attention to help a customer (end user or AV integrator) to understand our technology and industry best practices.

Brock McGinnis, Sales Manager, Westbury National, Audio Visual Solutions Division The Secret to Building A Better Team

I find myself watching a lot of baseball these days. My hometown Toronto Blue Jays are in contention, their games are exciting, and the roster they’ve assembled is incredibly talented. Baseball is the quintessential team sport, and this year’s Jays have all the pitching, hitting, and fielding it takes to get to the World Series.

Our business, AV integration, is also a complex team sport. The competition is fierce, the fans (clients) are unforgiving, and the playing conditions are always challenging. Winning consistently requires great pitching (sales), great hitting (engineering and installation), and great fielding (customer service). Unfortunately it also requires great equipment and, far too often, our game plans are derailed by the AV equivalent of broken bats.

You know what I’m talking about. Transmitters that don’t transmit, switchers that don’t switch, shipments that don’t ship, or any of the dozen other ways our suppliers can negatively impact the profitability and/or timely completion of even the best-planned project. So how do we better manage these variables to improve our winning percentages?

Improve Spring Training: Suppliers are mission-critical members of our teams. Choose them carefully, clearly communicate expectations, and then invest in the relationship. Take the training, earn the certifications, and master their customer service procedures.

Build A Better Bullpen: We all know that equipment—like starting pitchers—will occasionally fail. Good pre-testing procedures and on-hand backups mitigate risk and impact. “Should” and “Hope” are not good (project) closers.

Get Out Of The Dugout: Stop being so darned nice! Give bad products and suppliers the hook, send them to the minors, tell them why, and keep them there until they earn their way back onto your team.

Stand Up To The Ump: If product failures or poor service costs you money, ask for compensation. We do, and we get it. Suppliers want to keep our business—and they know, in this era of pervasive social media, happy customers are quiet customers.

The Secret to Surprising Your Customers With Innovation

Christopher Jaynes, CTO, Mersive How do the top AV companies deliver what customers want while at the same time surprising them with outstanding innovation? They approach the customer relationship as creative partnership in a process that starts at the design spec but involves the customer all the way through execution. Treating customers as innovation partners and not as, well, just customers, is harder than it sounds. Customers are able to describe their problems but won’t always be able to articulate detailed solutions. This gap between problem and solution is an opportunity for customers and integrators to innovate together.

Systems integration and design can be approached in the same way. Integration efforts often start with a customer-driven specification. Requirements and budgets are outlined and handed to an AV partner whose job is now to develop and implement an appropriate system. I’ve seen integrators lament partially defined requirements and “customers who don’t know what they want.” After all, clearly defined specifications mean less work and less risk. I think this is the wrong approach. Customers aren’t specific because they can’t be; they know what they need but are looking for an innovative partner to help fill in the blanks.

1. Design and deliver. Ask yourself, what does this requirement represent? Is there a deeper customer need that drives this requirement?

2. Let customers guide your thinking but not define it. Take these requests into account, but take the extra step to innovate beyond what is expected today.

3. Deliver future-proof systems. This will occur almost naturally if you’re really delivering systems that go beyond the spec. Build platforms that can evolve. Deliver software-based systems that can be upgraded.

The Secret to Staying Ahead of Wireless Mic Spectrum Changes

Karl Winkler, Vice President Sales/Service Lectrosonics You may remember the prior UHF spectrum re-allocation that happened about five years ago. In 2010, it became illegal to use any spectrum from 698 to 806 Mhz for wireless mics. What it meant for all of us is that about a quarter of the available spectrum for our purposes was taken away.

The FCC is at it again, as mandated by Congress to make more spectrum available for mobile broadband high-speed data. This time, they are using a “reverse incentive” auction sometime in 2016 to first determine how much it will cost to move existing broadcasters out of the 600 MHz band. From there, over the following three years, we will need to transition out of this spectrum. How much will be taken? It is impossible to say at this time. However, we can be reasonably certain that most if not all of the band between 614 and 698 MHz will become unavailable by 2020. It also means that the remaining spectrum will become more crowded.

Where does this leave us? Mainly, wireless mic users and owners need to develop a transition plan for any systems in this frequency range. Start by coming up with a schedule and then accruing budget funds to replace the gear. Following the auctions in 2016, more details will be announced about the time frame and exact parts of the spectrum to be vacated. Then, consider the available options for replacement gear, as some are better than others. Today there are already solid systems that will perform well given the remaining crowded RF space. Check in with your manufacturers, industry publications like this one, and your favorite consultants to help come up with the best possible plan.

The Secret to Improving Your Clients’ Bottom Lines With In-House Enterprise Video

Rob Read, Business Development Manager Roland Professional A/V Enterprise video allows companies to cost effectively produce, stream, and record in-house events, trainings, company meetings, and new product presentations. Webcasting offers companies a streamlined solution for sharing and educating multiple customers. This, in turn, improves business operations and boosts customer sales. Webcasting puts the subject or product directly in front of the potential buyer without having to travel to visit the clients.

Many businesses are already webcasting as part of their business operations and marketing strategies, but in the past, they have heavily relied on independent producers and rental companies to produce these types of activities. This can be costly and doesn’t encourage frequency. Here are some tips to help your clients equip themselves:

1. Purchase a low-latency, all-in-one AV mixer that combines audio and video and outputs to a software or hardware encoder for web streaming, recording, and live production in the facility. Avoid specifying a DIY AV system that is complicated to set up and operate. Make sure that the mixer is low latency, so you don’t experience video lag on your IMAG screen.

2. Specify low-latency projectors or screens for the in-house production. If you specify a low-latency mixer, you will also need a low-latency screen to match, otherwise your client will experience video lag.

3. Recommend a content delivery network (CDN) that can handle multiple platform deliveries (smartphones, tablets, and PCs), otherwise you may be limiting your audience.

4. Recommend a CDN that can broadcast in HD, add chat windows, archive/record events, as well as password protect the broadcast if your clients are broadcasting a private company meeting with confidential information.

Simplifying and bringing enterprise video production in-house for events, new product introductions, trainings, or company meetings can increase frequency and improve the bottom line for your clients.

Lindsey M. Adler

Lindsey M. Adler is an audiovisual storyteller based in New York.